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Daniel J. Lewis

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S: Daniel, it’s great to have you on the show. Thank you for joining us. Let’s start with what are the most important things to bear in mind when you’re talking about optimizing your podcast for high rankings in the iTunes search, Stitcher and everywhere else and then of course in Google as well.

D: Everything with all aspects of SEO come down to quality. Having quality content and certainly with iTunes, with Google, and now with Google Play Music, their quality is also important. Specifically in these places, what sets podcasting apart from regular content marketing and SEO on your website is in podcasting, you’re able to be on other platforms that you wouldn’t otherwise be on. The search engine rankings and algorithms on those platforms are significantly different. For example with your podcast, you might have the absolute best content in the world but with the wrong title your episodes may not be found. The most important text for podcast SEO for both iTunes and Google Play Music is your show title. That’s your overall title, what you name your show. It’s good to have a unique name but if your name doesn’t really described your content or have any of your relevant keywords, then a good thing to do is add a subtitle to that name. For example, I have a podcast called The Ramen Noodle, no one goes to iTunes searching for The Ramen Noodle or thinking, “Oh, I want to listen to a podcast today. I’ll search for whatever is about ramen noodles.” That doesn’t really happen. It doesn’t tell you what the podcast is about. It’s a cute title, I usually don’t recommend cute title but there are exceptions. What we did and this significantly helped our search engine ranking is we simply added to the title, we put in a hyphen and then gave it a subtitle which is Family Friendly Clean Comedy Podcast. Now if someone searches iTunes for clean comedy podcast, we show up or if they search for family friendly comedy, we show up. It’s that kind of thing, expanding the title, that’s the most important text. In iTunes, your individual episode titles are also highly important. Currently, they’re not searched in Google Play Music. I do expect that will change in the future. On the description side, your description in iTunes is not searched but your description in Google play Music for your overall show, not your individual episode, that description is searched. Subtitles aren’t searched. Author tags are searched. The main idea here is that most visible text, the title is what’s most important and will help you get found. That’s the same thing that applies to regular Google searches is that your title is the most important text you have.

S: That makes a lot of sense. If most of your audience is on iTunes, then you’re going to want to pay attention to the things that are going to matter the most in iTunes. If everybody is on an Android phone and they’re consuming your content through Google Play Music, then it’s somewhat different like you just described. You’re not going to care so much about the episode titles from a search perspective. It’s going to be more from a usability and conversion perspective. What about optimizing the RSS feed, because officially you don’t have a podcast if you don’t have an RSS feed, that’s how it works. Optimizing RSS feed is something that probably a lot of people are pretty unfamiliar with. Let’s talk a bit about what are the important containers and things inside of an RSS feed to optimize.

D: We’ll back up just so everyone is on the same page here. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s how your podcast is syndicated so people in iTunes, when they click subscribe on your podcast, they’re subscribing to your RSS feed which is then a feed of all of your latest episodes and show level information about your podcast. That’s the same way that other podcast apps work as well. They’re getting the information from your RSS feed. That said, if you want to change how your podcast is listed in iTunes, in Google Play Music, in several other podcast apps and directories, you change that information in your RSS feed. How you change that and where you go to change that depends on what you’re using to create that RSS feed. The two best ways to create a podcast RSS feed that give you this control over search engine optimization are either to use the RSS feed that Libsyn provides you, Libsyn being a podcast hosting company and they can create your RSS feed for you, or to use the feed you would get from the PowerPress plugin for WordPress, that’s a free plugin. You can use Blubrry hosting with that. I certainly recommend that pair as a great combination. Those are really the best two feed creators. If you want to change your title in iTunes, you change it in your RSS feed. If you’re using Libsyn or PowerPress to create that RSS feed, you go into the settings and change it there and then it takes about 24 hours for it to update in iTunes and some of the other podcast apps and directories. These titles and the other important fields are built into these RSS feed when you’re using a good tool to create your RSS feed. If you’re not using a good tool, then it really gets super technical to try and create your own RSS feed or hack something else together. That’s why I really recommend these two as the best solutions. If you use some other kind of tool like SoundCloud or Blogger or something like that, that’s the only case when I would recommend using FeedBurner and the SmartCast feature in FeedBurner. It won’t give you as much control as Libsyn or PowerPress give you but it is better than what you would get from those other platforms.

S: Don’t go in there and try to do the surgery yourself and mess around with the different container elements and items and things in the RSS feed. Use a plugin like PowerPress or if you’re using Libsyn which I would guess a large percentage of podcasters would be using as they’re media hosting platform for their MP3 files, then Libsyn has this great feature where they will create that RSS feed for you and make sure that it’s all syntactically correct and everything like that.

D: Then it’s a simple matter of you see the title field, you put your title in there and you write a good title. You see your description field, you write a good description, that kind of thing. They provide the field and then make the feed work for you.

S: Are there any tools that you recommend that check the validity and quality of your RSS feed?

D: There are several other factors, some technical, some are more conceptual that go into ensuring you have a good, compatible RSS feed. The reason that you need that is if your RSS feed breaks, then you could be removed from iTunes which makes sense because they don’t want people downloading a podcast that doesn’t work or trying to subscribe when it doesn’t work at all. The two tools that I recommend are castfeedvalidator.com and the other one is podba.se and then on there, there’s a podcast feed validator. Either of these will give you some good information and there are certain things that you may not think will break your RSS feed but it can slow things down. For example, iTunes is really picky about podcast cover art. If the image you’re using for your podcast cover art, the file itself, is larger than 500KB, iTunes struggles with that. In fact, iTunes may not show your latest episodes in the iTunes store even though your subscribers can download it. It’s because that file for your cover art is too big. There are some other issues too, technical things, but these two tools will check that for you and say you’re missing this or this looks good or you’re not using hosting with byte range request and some of these other technical things but it can let you know in general it’s good, it’s working, here are maybe some warnings, here are some suggestions, it’s working or it’s broken you need to fix this.

S: I’ve used podba.se before and it’s told me that my cover art was huge. They actually said that huge. I was in 2,282KB and gave me some suggestions to get it down to a smaller size. Definitely use a tool like that. What if somebody is on a different platform besides Libsyn? Would you recommend they switch to Libsyn? I would have asked this question of Rob Walch but I would’ve known the answer because I interviewed him a few weeks back, his episode is now live on the site and in the podcast feed. What’s your opinion as an independent neutral third party?

D: It really depends on your needs. The two best podcast hosting providers are Blubrry and Libsyn. Blubrry makes PowerPress, Libsyn does things without WordPress but it can kind of work with WordPress and they’re both really good. They both have industry standard stats. I would not trust stats from several other podcast hosting companies out there but I do trust the stats from these two companies. Their knowledge of podcasting and their leadership in the space is second to none. Between the two of them, it really depends on what’s important to you. What do you want your workflow to look like? I think Blubrry is great if you want a WordPress centric workflow where you’re doing everything about running your podcast all within your own self hosted WordPress website. There are some other ways that you can get some white label players so it doesn’t have anyone else’s logo on it and some really cool things you can do by using Blubrry. On the other side, Libsyn, what their specialty really is is for one being able to help you get your own app for the iTunes store, the Apple iOS store, the Windows App Store and the Android App Store. You can do that fairly easily through Libsyn. It does cost extra but that is an option there. Also, Libsyn is really good with automatic cross posting so if you want to publish a new episode and it go automatically out to Facebook and it’s converted to be a video, it loads in Facebook pretty nicely, then Libsyn is great for that. It’s really a matter of what is your priority. Do you want to keep everything inside of your single tool or do you want certain other levels of automation? When it comes down to price, they’re so close in price. Libsyn is just a little bit cheaper per megabyte than Blubrry is, but they’re so close that it’s a decision you really need to make on your own.

S: I’m a Libsyn user. I’m happy with them so I’d never switch. There are some tools that the providers of the search services offer like from Apple, the iTunes podcast connect portal and then Google Play Music, you have their portal. What are some things to know about these two portals and maybe there are some other portals that our listeners should know about?

D: Google Play Music is still fairly new but I do hope that it will be rising in the ranks. A third portal that might be interesting is Stitcher but I believe that Stitcher’s influence in the space has significantly decreased but they made a big change recently that is in the favor of podcasters so maybe they’ll grow in other ways. There’s iTunes Podcasts Connect which the main thing to do there is simply add, remove, or force refresh your podcast. I really do not recommend that you try changing your RSS feed through iTunes Podcast Connect, it’s not good for that. That could hurt you in other ways. It’s more that surface level basic management. I do believe someday Apple will give us more stats, more demographic information about our podcast inside of the iTunes Podcast Connect portal that us mere mortals have access to. They do already provide stats to network providers and my podcast network is a partner provider with Apple so I have access to their stats and it’s pretty cool what you can get from them, certain ways that it could be better but I think that they may, and this is all conjecture, they may someday bring that to the average podcaster. The other portal is the Google Play Music store portal. That’s where you can change what RSS feeds your Google Play Music directory listing as well as see some basic stats on how are people consuming your podcast through Google Play Music. Those stats might seem a little disappointing because Google Play Music is still fairly low in popularity for consuming podcast. They won’t actually show you stats until you get above a certain threshold. You may see that you have no downloads but that’s simply because the downloads are below a certain threshold and so they don’t report them at all. It’s primarily informational and top level management of add, remove and refresh the feed. Most of what you need to be concerned with in managing your podcast is really back at the creation level. Whatever you’re using to create your podcast, your RSS feed, that’s where you make most of the important changes.

S: You have access to some data that us mere regular podcasters don’t from iTunes. What kind of data are we talking about? Subscriber numbers, listens, downloads?

D: What you need to know is that you can get your own stats from other places. Blubrry and Libsyn again have the best stats in the industry. From that, you can learn how many subscribers you have by seeing what’s your fairly consistent average downloads per episode after about a week per episode then tells you your loyal listeners. And then if you look at it after a month per episode, then you’ll see that’s your general audience reach for each individual episode. It’s not as simple as just simply seeing the number that says you have this many subscribers but it is still helpful for your download stats. Now on the iTunes side of things, they have this service called site manager and it includes more information that as a network host, it’s currently all combined. I can’t really see the breakdown of demographics and country based on certain shows but I can see some demographics inside of this podcast connect system. I can see for example because many people will log into iTunes or their podcast app with their Apple ID, that has some demographic information attached to it so I can see general ages for consumption on my network. I can see what countries they’re consuming from or activity on devices like Apple TV versus iTunes versus iPad or iPhone or iPod or that kind of thing. I can also see some iTunes specific stats such as subscriptions, streams, downloads and visits to my iTunes listing. I don’t know how much of this they’ll someday open to the public but I do have big hopes that they’ll open this up to the rest of the podcasters. I do, really, I expect that they will because this information could be very useful to podcasters and it seems like they’re going in that direction.

S: I sure hope so. In the meantime, people kind of think of the download numbers they get from Libsyn as equivalent to listens but it’s not the same. They’re not necessarily going to get a listen from somebody who downloaded your episode, it’s just sitting on their phones ready for them. How do you get a sense for listens versus downloads?

D: Even then, what iTunes is tracking in the site manager that I have is still that basic download information although they do show me streams which is considered really a progressive download. If someone presses play in iTunes but they haven’t downloaded the whole episode yet, that’s considered a stream. A lot of advertisers are upset about the way that podcast consumption works where it downloads and then that data basically goes into a black box. You don’t know if someone actually listens to or watches the episode after it’s been downloaded. But hey, this is something that that problem has existed across every industry. TV shows, they don’t actually know how many people are watching the TV shows, they have ways of estimating and guessing and algorithms and such. Or magazine subscriptions, they know how many subscribers they have but they don’t actually know how many people read the magazine or how much of the magazine they read except for feedback they get and then they do algorithms on that amount of feedback. Advertisers are trying to work toward more thorough stats to know that someone has listened to a certain amount of an episode or heard the ad spot, but it’s really not in favor of the podcast consumer. It’s realistically not in favor of the podcaster either, it’s really in favor of the advertisers. This is an industry that’s driven by the consumer. It’s driven by passion, not by advertising. I do think someday we’ll see more thorough stats but for now the thing that you can do, and this is what many of the advertisers forget is you can look at your trending information. You may know that you get let’s say 1,000 downloads per episode, you don’t know how many people actually listened to that episode after they’ve downloaded it but many podcast apps will pause a subscription to a podcast if the user has not consumed an episode within a last certain number of releases. For example if you have a weekly podcast and someone is subscribed and they have not pressed play on any of the last five episodes, it will pause their subscription so they’ll stop downloading episodes, they’ll no longer show up as an RSS subscriber, until they press play on one of those episodes and then their subscription is renewed. What can you learn form that is that when you look at your trending information and you see you consistently have, episode after episode, 1,000 downloads per episode and it’s not going down, then you can know those 1,000 people are staying engaged. If they were subscribing and then not listening at all, then you would expect that number to go down because their podcast apps would start pausing their subscriptions after five or so episodes, three to five episodes is the average for most of the apps out there. But if you see that number staying consistent and going up, then you know your audience is growing and the audience that you have is most likely staying as well.

S: Got it. Let’s talk about if you are a brand new podcast, you want to get into that elusive New and Noteworthy category in iTunes. Is that important? Is that going to get you a lot of subscribers? Is it kind of a fool’s errand? How does all of this compare with the Top 200 list. You get Category Specific and New and Noteworthy. You get Category Specific and top 200 in iTunes and you have overall New and Noteworthy and overall Top 200. What’s the breakdown on all of this?

D: It’s certainly not as important as many people hype it to be. Whether it can help you as a podcaster really depends on several factors. For one thing, New and Noteworthy is mostly handpicked by Apple. What they consider new or noteworthy. You can be in New and Noteworthy at any point and I’ve had a couple of podcast shows back up in New and Noteworthy after they’ve been years old. There are certain categories in iTunes like look at the comedy category and it is completely hand picked and there are podcasts in New and Noteworthy that are not new but they are noteworthy, so Apple keeps them in there and they’ve kept them in there for years. They do handpick these things. There are certain things you can do to catch Apple’s attention but if they don’t think it’s noteworthy, they probably won’t put it in there and you don’t have to try and gain the system by trying to get new reviews and such, although reviews may help you catch Apple’s attention. But otherwise, they may just see, “Oh, you gained a lot of subscribers. It’s in your podcast. It has great titles. Great looking content. We should feature this podcast. It looks like it’s worth featuring.” That seems to be how Apple generate things, you can’t just hack the system with an algorithm. What benefit do you get from being a New and Noteworthy? It really depends. If you have an extremely niched show, you’re most likely not going to benefit much from New and Noteworthy because not many people will notice that content. If you have a broader niche, a broader topic, you may get more appeal in New and Noteworthy. Certainly if you’re in the business industry or marketing, those tend to get a lot more notoriety in New and Noteworthy. If you are a celebrity or you have some kind of celebrity status to your name, your brand, your topic, then that might benefit being a New and Noteworthy. If President Barack Obama starts his own podcast and it shows up in iTunes New and Noteworthy, everyone will see that and they’ll think, “Oh yeah, I know who that guy is. I want to see what his podcast is about.” They click it because of his celebrity status. But if you start a podcast and you’re an unknown person and it’s about some off the wall topic, it’s not a major mass appeal topic, most likely people will just gloss over it and you won’t get as much of an audience growth. You may get some, and it is undeniable that you get some audience growth. It does benefit you a little bit but it doesn’t benefit you as much as people say. New and Noteworthy has absolutely no ranking at all to it. Being in the upper left position means nothing in comparison to being in the lower right position. It’s simply that’s where Apple put you. It doesn’t reflect your ratings, your reviews, your downloads, your subscriptions, your popularity in any way. It’s simply where Apple put you. On the other hand, the rankings on the side which is where you see the Top Podcast, you can see that overall, you can see a per category, you can click on the see all link and then you’ll see the Top 200 overall in iTunes or the Top 200 in a particular category, that does reflect something. It reflects your total lifetime subscriptions with a weighted average on the most recent days. To put this in an example here, if you start a podcast and literally overnight you get 1,000 subscribers, you’ll probably jump maybe to the top or near the top of those top podcast. They are indicating where you are saying this is a top podcast. Right now, it’s getting 1,000 new subscribers in only 24 hours. Ratings and reviews seem to have absolutely no effect on your ranking and it makes sense. Look at how books are rated or ranked. Books are ranked based on how well they sell, not based on how many write a review for that book. It’s the same way for podcasts too. If your podcast gets 1,000 subscribers overnight and then gets no new subscribers the next day, then you’ll probably drop off that chart very quickly because there’s no new activity. What matters most in your ranking in iTunes is subscribers. Bringing this back to search engine optimization, that’s where it matters there too is if you have a podcast about a keyword, let’s say productivity, and there are many podcasts that use productivity as a keyword or as a part of the title or episode titles and such. If you type in productivity, the podcast that will show up top has more subscribers than the podcast below it. The relevance and amount of usage is not as important in iTunes as are the number of subscribers, lifetime subscribers that podcast has. That’s why if you start a podcast today, no matter how many times you use a particular keyword in your title and episodes and such, it may take you a long time to rank up in search because other subscribers or other podcasters have been doing this for years, maybe a decade or more. They have a much higher number of total lifetime subscribers. The best thing you can do is grow your audience and the best way to grow your audience is make great content. Find your ideal audience, build relationships with them and bring them back to that great content.

S: That’s a great tip. I know you have to go here. Do we have time for a little lightning around?

D: Sure.

S: Awesome, okay what’s your favorite podcast app? Are you using the podcast app or Overcast or what?

D: I think my favorite app is Overcast. I’ve been trying Pocket Cast for a little while but I just find myself going back to Overcast on iOS.

S: Okay, cool. This is a softball one for you. What’s your favorite tracking tool for tracking reviews and ratings across iTunes, across all the countries?

D: Nice setup, mypodcastreviews.com. It’s a tool I created for podcasters, checks all 155 iTunes stores plus Stitcher and soon Pod Directory and Google Play Music allows you to see and share all of your ratings and reviews from all of the countries. It’s really fun and engaging too.

S: It is a great tool and I’m a subscriber, a paid subscriber. Love it. How do you do keyword research for podcast SEO?

D: My favorite tool is Long Tail Pro but you can use Google AdWords: Keyword Planner tool. Generally, you enter a keyword and you find some results and that can give you some inspiration for ideal content create. It’s worked really well for me in the past when I’ve used it.

S: Awesome. Last question is another softball. What would you recommend podcasters or want to be podcasters do in terms of joining an online community so that they can ask questions and collaborate and troubleshoot and so forth. I know you have a community.

D: There are different communities out there where I like to focus. I like to focus on helping existing podcasters improve. If you haven’t started your podcast yet, then my community won’t quite be for you. I’ll tell you more about that in just a moment but I do recommend whatever your favorite social network is, most likely there’s a community for podcasters there. Whether that’s Reddit, Google Plus, Pinterest even, Facebook and such. You could find a community that you can join. Go in there, please use the search tool. If you’re going to ask what’s the best microphone, that’s been answered dozens of times already so go in there, use a search tool, introduce yourself sure but don’t see these communities as an opportunity to promote your podcast. See them as an opportunity to learn, to benefit, to participate in the discussions. If you’ve already launched your podcast and you’re looking for how can you make that podcast even better and take it to the next level, a common phrase in podcasting, then you might to consider podcastersociety.com. That’s my community and Stephan is a member of that. It’s for not helping you to launch your podcast at all. It’s assuming you’re actually required to already have launched your podcast but it’s to help you improve your podcast. The content presentation, production, promotion, profit, to connect you with other podcasters. Our conversation moves beyond, “What microphone do I need?” Or, “How do I get an RSS feed?” To, “I’m struggling with this. How can I overcome this?” Or, “How can I improve my show?” “How can I grow my audience?” “How can I profit more?” “How can I help my audience profit more from the podcast?” That’s podcastersociety.com.

S: Awesome. I know you have to go so thank you so much, Daniel. It was great having you, great sharing your wisdom and your experience with us about podcasting and taking it to the next level with your getting more subscribers, more listeners, more downloads, etc. If somebody wanted to work with you beyond Podcasters Society, let’s say they wanted to hire you for consulting, are you available for that?

D: Now, I’m available only for consulting to current members of Podcasters Society but if you need help, one on one help, then I can refer you to someone. I do have a lot of free content available on my site at theaudacitytopodcast.com.

S: Yes, and you have a great show there too, The Audacity To Podcast podcast show. Awesome, well thank you again, Daniel, and thank you listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. This is your host Stephan Spencer signing off.

 

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